Solitary Confinement

Perhaps the single most barbaric aspect of mass incarceration in California is the cruel practice of assigning inmates to solitary confinement. This practice, affecting as many as 6,000 inmates at any given time, has been judged inhumane and unacceptable by human rights experts. The cruelty of the practice is underscored by its arbitrariness: people are “validated” for solitary not because of their gang affiliation or actual misconduct in prison but because they manage to run afoul of all-powerful corrections officers. People of faith must join forces with the families of those in solitary to put an end to this shameful abuse of human beings.

Inside America’s Toughest Federal Prison

n prison, Rodney Jones told me, everyone had a nickname. Jones’s was Saint E’s, short for St. Elizabeth's, the federal psychiatric hospital in Washington, best known for housing John Hinckley Jr. after he shot Ronald Reagan. Jones spent time there as well, having shown signs of mental illness from an early age; he first attempted suicide at 12, when he drank an entire bottle of Clorox. Later, he became addicted to PCP and crack and turned to robbery to support his habit. I met Jones a few … [Read more...]

Why The U.S. Won’t Let the U.N. Look Inside Its Prisons

n 2010, Juan Mendez was appointed Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Degrading and Inhumane Treatment by the United Nations. His mandate is wide in size and scope—to expose and document torture wherever it exists on the planet today. Since the beginning of his mandate Mendez has made criticizing the overuse of solitary confinement a priority. In 2011, he issued a report stating that 22 or 23 hours a day alone in a prison cell for more than 15 days at a time can cause permanent, … [Read more...]

How Can The Atlantic Give Us 5,000 Words on Prison Life Without Interviewing Prisoners?

s someone who writes about prisons, and who two spent years behind bars, I devour nearly everything written about it, especially the long-form stuff. So I was excited when I saw that The Atlantic’s latest issue had a major story called “How Gangs Took Over Prison.” Then I read it. Anyone who has ever survived anything traumatic—domestic abuse, rape, torture, war—knows the particular jolt that happens in the body when someone makes light of that thing that you once thought could destroy you. I … [Read more...]

Reform Solitary Confinement in California This Year: Yes on AB 1652

e must reform solitary confinement in California's prisons. AB 1652, introduced by Tom Ammiano, is an important step forward. We ask the Assembly Appropriations Committee, chaired by Mike Gatto, to take AB 1652 off hold and to send it to the full Assembly for a vote. We ask our legislators to vote yes so that we can change the shameful abuse of long-term isolation and bring California more in line with other states and international human rights standards. There are currently 825 signatures. … [Read more...]

Activist Battles Jailers’ ‘Culture of Violence’

utside the bunker-like county jail complex, bail bondsmen hover by the visitors' entrance, thrusting fliers at potential customers as they file in to see husbands, sons and friends. Along the sidewalk, taxi drivers hustle for fares among newly released inmates who pace about, dialing cellphones, reconnecting and searching for rides. A young woman with a short shock of dreadlocks atop a mostly shaved head set off by chunky gold earrings joins them. She has a brisk walk, a broad smile — and a … [Read more...]

The Archipelago of Pain

e don’t flog people in our prison system, or put them in thumbscrews or stretch them on the rack. We do, however, lock prisoners away in social isolation for 23 hours a day, often for months, years or decades at a time. We prohibit the former and permit the latter because we make a distinction between physical and social pain. But, at the level of the brain where pain really resides, this is a distinction without a difference. Matthew Lieberman of the University of California, Los Angeles, … [Read more...]

How Four Inmates Launched Statewide Hunger Strike From Solitary

ast summer, four alleged leaders of rival prison gangs worked together to coordinate a hunger strike at California's Pelican Bay State Prison. They were protesting long-term, indefinite incarceration in solitary confinement. All of the men were in solitary when they launched the strike. One of them, Todd Ashker, has been in solitary for more than 20 years. On the first day of the strike, 30,000 prisoners across the state's prison system refused their meals. The story of how the four prisoners … [Read more...]

At Hearing on Solitary Confinement in California Prisons, Advocates Challenge “Reforms”

e’re here to question the existence and effects of the SHU,” stated California Assembly Member Tom Ammiano recently, “and we don’t think this new proposed policy goes nearly far enough.” Ammiano, who chairs the Assembly’s Public Safety Committee, was speaking at the second joint California Assembly-Senate hearing on the use of solitary confinement, including SHUs (Security Housing Units), in the state’s prisons. Representatives from California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation … [Read more...]

Women In Solitary Confinement: Buried Inside the Federal Prison System

his past September, in response to continued criticism around its use of solitary confinement, the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) began an internal audit of its “restricted housing operations.” As noted earlier by Solitary Watch, no women’s prisons are listed in the Scope of Work provided by the team hired to conduct the Special Housing Unit Review and Assessment. The BOP’s Public Information Office was unable to comment on this apparent omission. Although they are absent from the audit, … [Read more...]

Solitary Confinement and Mentally Ill Inmates

federal judge abruptly interrupted a weeks long hearing so that he could begin considering whether the prolonged solitary confinement of mentally ill inmates in California prisons violates their civil rights. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton in Sacramento ordered attorneys representing inmates and the state to submit written closing arguments instead of hearing oral arguments as scheduled. "I can't possibly absorb any more," Karlton said, expressing impatience with the … [Read more...]